Go: The Coherent Novel on the Beats

I think reading the Beats is a bit of a right of passage for most young readers/writers. In America, they were arguably the last significant “movement” in that there were a clear group of people closely associated with each other and who actually hung out together and worked on their craft together to have a significant impact on not just the literary world but the world in general. this isn’t to say that there haven’t been writers since who can be grouped together through style/influence/subject matter. You can always create these artificial groupings. But the Beat Generation, to me, was the last Group, with a capital G.

I have a feeling my experience with them isn’t unlike others. You hear of this group of writers, you hear about them writing some real way out stuff that no one you run into who read them and liked them can quite explain. They’re just damn good. And you should read them. And I did. And I started with one of the biggies, Ginsberg, from a college poetry anthology my English teacher had given me. From Howl, Khaddish and America I moved on to Kerouac and On The Road, Big Sur and the Dharma Bums and then on to Burroughs, etc.

Follow the strings long enough and you, as I did, come to Snyder, McLure, Bukowski and others. You start seeing Ann Charters’s everywhere. On the bookshelves at Borders or Barnes & Noble you start seeing the collections of letters and criticism and the various versions of various peoples “My Time with Such and Such…”  You listen to REM and read in the liner notes that Michael Stipe was a reader of the Beats and see Ginsberg showing up in bob Dylan documentaries. The Beats appear to be everywhere.

Who you don’t notice is John Clellon Holmes. Or at least I didn’. I’d know of him in the same way I know of the Boer War. I’ve heard of it, I know that it existed in some point but I couldn’t pick it out of a lineup if my life depended on it.

until I bought the novel Go a little over a year ago.  To anyone accostomed to the energy of Kerouac’s Beat-centric novels or Ginsberg’s passion, this can be quite a shock of a read.  First, and most importantly, it is insanely well written. Secondly, it gives a far different view of the Beat characters that would be made famous later when other members of the group started finding their fame. Holmes’s view of Neal Cassady, for example, is radically different from Kerouac’s and it is these differences which help give flesh to the characters, if you’re familiar with them from other works.

If you’re not familiar with them, it’s still a great read as you follow Holmes’s self-styled “Hobbes” for six months as he pals around with the other Beats and attempts to reconcile their lifestyle with his own, never truly achieving a full synthesis but whose remaining on the outside is useful for the trust you can give his narration. 

For more information about Holmes, here’s his Wiki page. And here is a webprint of an article Holmes wrote in 1952 for the NY Times talking about the Beat Generation in a larger, non-literary centric way.

Here is Holms’s page from the exhaustingly well done Lit Kicks site.

If you’re near Kent State, their library has a large collection of John Clellon Holmes materials, including a collection 20 records made by Holmes of various things Beat related including Ginsberg reciting poetry to Kerouac and Ginsberg just talking to eachother. Unforunately, these materials are not available online (and, in all honesty, I’m not sure they are available in person, either, or if  they are simply “archived” materials).

Finally, if you’d like to just buy the novel, here’s the Amazon link for GO.

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2 Responses to “Go: The Coherent Novel on the Beats”

  1. Rick Dale Says:

    Makes me want to read Go! Thanks!

    Perhaps you’d enjoy my Kerouac-obsessed blog: http://www.thedailybeatblog.blogspot.com.

  2. nickpierce Says:

    did you come across any info on Hunke?

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